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Czech Republic: Hot summer of protests ahead for Šluknov foothills

Prague/Šluknov, 10.7.2012 21:56, (ROMEA)
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The mayors of the Šluknov district have convened a protest for 19 July, saying they are bothered by the fact that the Government has once again stopped paying attention to the foothills area. "At this moment we, the mayors of towns and villages in the Šluknov foothills, have no other option for addressing the security and social problems of our citizens and improving their situations," the mayors have written in their call for the demonstration.

"We want to communicate to people, in a decent format, what we have achieved after a year of work. We definitely do not want to stir up emotions," said Mayor of Šluknov Eva Džumanová. Those attending the demonstration, however, will not be going there to listen to a list of measures, they will be going to express their dissatisfaction - or even rancor. The mayors have communicated as much themselves by saying there is nothing else they can do, they've done all they can, it's the Government that has failed, and if it doesn't change, we will be badly off. The rally on the 19th will be an emotionally charged, completely political event.

If the mayors just wanted to tell people what they have already done and what they were unable to do because the Government prevented them from doing it, they could use the newsletters put out by their own town halls, the official municipal websites - or even the ordinary media. That way they would have the certainty that the information would reach the greatest possible number of people undistorted. The same cannot be said of a demonstration. Such an emotionally charged event will be subject to interpretation and the words spoken there will be taken out of context. Simply put, news about mayoral activity doesn't belong at a demonstration. It belongs to the standard channels of communication between elected officials and the voters.

The Šluknov district is comprised of 18 municipalities, 12 of which are now collaborating with the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities. The collaboration with these towns has varied widely from the start of 2008. The town of Krásná Lípa managed to take excellent advantage of the Agency, and today their situation is completely different from the situation in Rumburk or Varnsdorf, where social policy has been neglected for years. Recently the situation in those towns has been strongly exacerbated and politicized with the assistance of the right-wing extremist Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strany sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS), the media, and the particular interests of some politicians in the region.

Everyone certainly has the right to demonstrate in this country, but it is strange that mayors are the ones demonstrating. I personally had the opportunity to attend a meeting of mayors from the Šluknov foothills on the tense situation there, which was also attended by representatives of the Interior Ministry, the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, and the Office of the Government. I have to say that it was a constructive, pragmatic meeting where the mayors were provided with as much cooperation and support as possible in order to stabilize the situation in the region. A plan of measures to help address the situation was prepared for each town together with the town hall leadership.

Prime Minister Nečas has personally visited the foothills. A special forces unit of the Czech Police was established for Ústí Region and a misdemeanor registry was set up. The Agency has been engaged there significantly and continues to be engaged in reducing social tensions in the foothills. The package of legislative amendments submitted by Ústí Region to Parliament was shelved by the lower house in February, but that does not mean the work done to draw up those proposals was in vain. As we are used to here, it can always be said that much more could have been done.

The question remains: Why is the mayoral demonstration taking place? Everyone knows that the upcoming regional and Senate elections have increased the nervousness of some politicians. Some would doubtless very much like to exploit the Šluknov topic in their electoral campaigns. As far as I am aware, Josef Zoser, chair of the Šluknov Development Association (Sdružení pro rozvoj Šluknovska), is running in the regional elections on behalf of the "For the Region" (Pro kraj) movement.

Ústí Region suffers from a rather high degree of unemployment. The area is economically stagnant, with few available jobs. That's very bad advertising for local and regional politicians who have not managed to make the region more attractive and have not tempted enough firms and investors there to create enough new jobs.

In fact, many of those politicians have done the exact opposite. All you have to do is look at the scandal around the Northwest Regional Operational Program (ROP Severozápad), which disburses hundreds of millions of crowns from EU Structural Funds there. Several people have been criminally prosecuted for corruption as part of that scandal.

Politicians, both local and regional, should realize that voters are not stupid and will hold them to account. Unfortunately, there are no quick, universal solutions for addressing the situation of Romani communities. The cumulative, long-unaddressed problems in the area cannot be solved in a few hours - and should not only be addressed during election campaigns. Solutions must be preceded by long-term, systematic work, otherwise all actions will be limited to "putting out fires" - and people like Mr Kohout (see below) will be glad to feed off the chaos.

The upcoming events in Šluknov district this summer are:

1) The mayors of the Šluknov district have announced their demonstration for Thursday, 19 July at 16:00 in Šluknov. They say they are bothered that the Government has stopped paying attention to the foothills once again.

2) Provocateur Lukáš Kohout has announced a demonstration for Saturday, 4 August, at 14:00 in Varnsdorf. Kohout is the person who sparked last year's series of protests in the Šluknov district. He has called his demonstration "One Year After" and hopes people's interest will be at least as great as it was last year. He may protest at any other time as well, as he has reserved the square in Varnsdorf through the end of the year.

3) The DSSS has announced it will be holding rallies on Saturday, 15 September at the following times: 13:00 in Šluknov, 15:00 in Rumburk, 16:30 in Varnsdorf. These are obviously the most high-risk events of all the protests. Based on last year's experience, we can presume that many right-wing extremists will travel to the Šluknov district to participate.

Gwendolyn Albert, Cyril Koky, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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